Katie Parker, 19, walked from the Washington Monument to Capitol Hill with dozens of East Texans Wednesday. She said the walk was peaceful, with “millions” of like-minded people who support President Donald Trump and the Constitution.

“I never felt unsafe,” Parker, of Longview, said.

The demonstrations; however, were not all peaceful.

Just down the National Mall, a woman was shot to death by Capitol Police as violent rioters pushed past barriers and broke into the Capitol building. According to the Associated Press, the death toll related to the breach at the Capitol is at four people and dozens were arrested.

“I found it disturbing in that I think our institutions are important and should be important to all of us,” Gregg County Democratic Precinct Chair Mary Lou Tevebaugh said Thursday. “This seemed to be an attack on our very foundation of democracy. I was disappointed, hurt and frightened.”

Perspective

Parker said this past year was her first time to vote in a presidential election.

“I have a pretty solid understanding of the Constitution,” she said.

Parker said she felt compelled to do something after the election because, she said, lawmakers are pulling the wool over the eyes of Americans.

This group of East Texans who went to D.C. claimed what they saw of the protests was peaceful and patriotic.

“It was amazing, seeing that many people standing together in what they believed,” David Ansley of Gladewater said.

The group said they stayed away from the rioters.

“We did march onto the Capital lawn but not any further,” Ansley said.

Parker said the majority of the protest was peaceful.

“We heard that everyone was talking about that the people who were breaking in were disguised,” Parker said. “Nothing stopped us from going up on the steps but we stayed back.”

Further up, windows were smashed and rioters broke into the building. People marched through the halls of the Capitol, causing lawmakers and staff to hide for safety.

Rioters took over the chambers and entered lawmaker’s offices while waving pro-Trump, Confederate and American flags. People climbed on scaffolding, scaling the walls of the Capitol outside.

The Capitol Building had not been breached since the British Army marched on Washington during the War of 1812.

Jennifer Smith, of Longview, organized pro-Trump protests in Gregg County and East Texas following the election, and later she organized the trip to Washington D.C.

“It was very patriotic and peaceful,” Smith said.

Smith said there were about 120 East Texans in her group, and she said they remained on the lawn and steps of the Capitol building.

“We wanted to take a stand for our Constitution and let Congress know we expected a free and fair election,” Smith said. “We are tired of the corruption that has infiltrated our government from the local level to the federal levels.”

Tevebaugh, who is also the former president of Democratic Women of East Texas, said she firmly believes in the right to peacefully protest.

“When there have been marches here, there have been marches and rallies for various causes and that doesn’t concern me,” Tevebaugh said. “Yesterday, you saw people tear down the American flag and put up the Trump flag. That’s what concerns me — that they were putting a man above our country.”

She added that she supported the East Texas group going to Washington to protest.

“I suspect that even those people who went would not condone that behavior,” Tevebaugh said.

Smith and others in the group took photos and video of the event.

“Millions were there,” Smith said. “It was peaceful until antifa showed up.”

Siege

Smith claims that vans brought in members of Antifa — a movement made up of loosely affiliated autonomous groups who are militantly opposed to fascism — and that the members made their way to the front of the march with “professional riot gear, body length shields, milk for tear gas, etc.”

She said those people became confrontational with police and that Trump supporters tried to stop them by taking their batons and sticks.

Tevebaugh called the idea that all who stormed the Capitol were antifa members is ridiculous.

“We’ve seen the pictures of them,” she said. “We know who they are and what they are. They have identified them.

“It doesn’t matter who they are, if they broke in they need to be punished,” Tevebaugh said. “We need to support that.”

Numerous news outlets have reported that there is no evidence to support that antifa was at the protest. The Arizona Republic identified one shirtless man wearing a horned helmet inside the Capitol as a known QAnon supporter who frequents right-wing political rallies in Arizona.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Gregg County Republican Party posted on its Facebook condemning the violence.

“The Republican Party of Gregg County does not condone or support the violence that has happened in Washington D.C. today,” the post said. “We are a party of law and order and have yet to behave in this fashion. The Gregg County Party stays committed to this and our mission.”

Republican Party of Gregg County Chair Brian Bowden on Thursday doubled down on a stance against violence.

“We are a party of law and order,” Bowden said. “We want the process to work out the way it’s supposed to work out. We support Trump 100%, and we look forward to a peaceful transition to President-Elect Joe Biden.”

Bowden said a few local precinct chairs went to the event to peacefully protest and be around “like-minded Trump supporters.”

“The millions of people who were there should not be held accountable for the antigovernment extremists who were there and infiltrated us,” Parker said. “We got to the Capitol expecting to hear some speakers and when we got there, there was tear gas and I wasn’t expecting that.”

Reaction

Gregg County Democratic Chair Phillip Burns called Wednesday a sad day in America.

“If that had been Black Lives Matter folks, they would all be in jail,” Burns said. “It concerns me that they condone that type of behavior. They talk about the Black Lives Matter movement, and they are hypocritical.”

Burns said he watched the events unfold on TV and was shocked.

“What I would like to know, when those down there from East Texas saw what was happening: What did they do? How did they feel?” Burns asked. “How can you stand there and support someone who calls for that type of behavior?”

Burns said the Democratic Party of Gregg County does not condone violence of any kind.

“We would never support this type of behavior like this and we would never support a candidate that would condone this behavior,” Burns said.

While the violence frustrated the East Texas protestors, it did not change their view of the day nor dampen their spirits.

“Yesterday was the most patriotic day I’ve seen,” Parker said. “Those were Americans, not the violent people. I’m proud of them.”

“I just want us to get back to the idea that we are neighbors, we are citizens of our great country,” Tevebaugh said. “We need to quit looking at it like we’re enemies or members of political parties. We have more that unites us.”

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Courtney Stern is a public safety reporter covering a wide range of topics. She grew up in Baltimore and later earned a journalism degree from the University of Miami. Stern moved to East Texas from Iowa with her husband and two dogs, Pebbles and Bam Bam.